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6 Saints Who Took Flight & What They Teach Us Latest

6 Saints Who Took Flight & What They Teach Us

Sep 15, 2023 by

There's more to holiness and sainthood than extraordinary phenomena, but we are all intrigued when we read of the saints who exhibited such gifts. Levitation is one manifestation of union with God, and a love so intimate and otherworldly the human body cannot contain it. The natural has its limitations and cannot always accommodate the supernatural. Here are six saints who exhibited the remarkable ecstatic gift of levitation. 

1. St. Joseph of Cupertino

This Franciscan saint may be most widely known for levitation. He experienced great difficulties in school, was considered absent-minded, lacking in concentration, and not very bright, but he was attracted to holiness and prayer from an early age. 

He longed to join the Franciscans, who would not accept him at first because of his schooling challenges. His mother prevailed upon his uncle, a Franciscan friar, to take young Joseph as a servant in the monastery. 

While tending the livestock, Joseph drew closer to God, demonstrating great humility, and the Franciscans eventually allowed him to begin his training for the priesthood.

Coursework was incredibly difficult for Joseph. Following his ordination to the diaconate, it became clear that his learning challenges were at least in part related to ecstatic experiences that took his soul to the heights. Misunderstood as lacking attentiveness or intellect, he was actually experiencing union with God.

He began experiencing levitation when saying Mass or looking at devotional items like statues. Not only did he rise inches or feet off the ground, but on at least one occasion, he flew! 

The Spanish ambassador was visiting Italy and had come to see Joseph in his cell at the monastery. So moved was he by Joseph's humility and sweetness he asked to return with his wife. 

Joseph was to meet the couple in the sanctuary, but upon gazing at the statue of Mary there, he ascended ten feet into the air, floated toward the statue of Our Lady, and then floated back to his cell, much to the amazement of those present.


In another instance, Joseph levitated upon kissing the feet of Pope Urban VIII. He was only able to come down when ordered to by his superior. Though he was known to wear large, heavy chains as a penance, these did not prevent his rising to the love of God through ecstatic union.

The Church recorded over seventy occasions of levitation by St. Joseph of Cupertino, attested to by faithful witnesses during his cause for canonization. His simple holiness is chronicled in the film, The Reluctant Saint. He is the patron saint of test-takers, airline pilots and passengers, paratroopers, the Air Force, astronauts, and those with learning disabilities. 


2. St. Teresa of Avila

While this remarkable Spanish saint was known to levitate on many occasions, she was a spiritual heavyweight. St. Teresa was Holy Mother and Foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order, establishing seventeen monasteries before her death. 

She is widely known as one of the most prolific writers on mysticism. The Lord instructed Teresa to write down all He taught her and much of what we know about levitation comes from her work. She wrote her autobiography out of obedience, at the behest of her superior.


When Teresa first began to levitate, she instructed her nuns to yank her down promptly. She also attempted to weigh herself down with stones, but that did not prevent her ecstasies. She preferred not to speak of the matter, but did describe the humiliation of these events and her attempts to resist them in her life's story. 

Through Teresa's explanation, we learn to think of this extraordinary phenomenon as a sign of intimate union with God - a union so powerful that the human body cannot contain its effects. She writes:

"These effects are very striking. One of them is the mani­festation of the Lord’s mighty power: as we are unable to resist His Majesty’s will, either in soul or in body, and are not our own masters, we realize that, however irksome this truth may be, there is One stronger than ourselves, and that these favours are bestowed by Him, and that we, of ourselves, can do absolutely nothing. This imprints in us great humility. Indeed, I confess that in me it produced great fear — at first a terrible fear.

One sees one’s body being lifted up from the ground; and although the spirit draws it after itself, and if no resistance is offered does so very gently, one does not lose consciousness — at least, I myself have had sufficient to enable me to realize that I was being lifted up.

The majesty of Him Who can do this is manifested in such a way that the hair stands on end, and there is produced a great fear of offending so great a God, but a fear overpowered by the deepest love, newly enkindled, for One Who, as we see, has so deep a love for so loathsome a worm that He seems not to be satisfied by literally drawing the soul to Himself, but will also have the body, mortal though it is, and befouled as is its clay by all the offenses it has committed." - From the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila

One of her many biographers, Bishop Diego de Yepes, records an instance where he gave St. Teresa Holy Communion through the grille at her monastery, only to observe her rising and clutching the grille in attempt to stop her own ascent. 

"Lord, for a thing of so little consequence as is my being bereft of this favour of Thine, do not permit a creature so vile as I am to be taken for a holy woman," Bishop de Yepes recorded her pleading with Jesus.

Though these experiences constituted a trial for St. Teresa because of her great humility, she loved the Lord in such an intense union that He spoke to her, instructed her, and united her to Himself in mystical marriage.


3. St. Alphonsus Liguori 

St. Alphonsus was not only a holy priest and bishop, but also a poet, painter, and musician. Founder of the Redemptorist Order, he was seen levitating on at least one occasion while preaching in Foggia, Italy. Lifted up before the congregation, he hovered several feet above the ground. 

In another instance, during a mission in Amalfi, Italy, while preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary, he exclaimed to the faithful, 

"You have not sufficient confidence in your Mother. You do not know how to pray to her with all your heart, but I am going to pray for you."  

As he began to pray concertedly, a ray of light illuminated the saint's face, his eyes were aflame with love for Mary, and he rose several feet above the pulpit. His ecstasy lasted for about five minutes while the faithful were overcome by emotion, sobbed, exclaimed their love for Our Lady, and cried, "Miracle! Miracle!" 


4. St. Francis of Assisi

This beloved saint and founder of the Franciscan Order renounced the world and a rich inheritance for the love of God and mankind. He is known for many things, including his radical imitation of Christ, his embrace of poverty, and his love of nature as God's creation. 

Mt. LaVerna was a secluded, wild, and holy mountain given to Francis by a count who was inspired by his preaching. Francis went to LaVerna to commune with God in solitude. It was there that he received the stigmata. 

According to The Little Flowers of St. Francis, a traditional and historical account of Francis and the Franciscans, Brother Leo, Francis' secretary and confessor, would often visit Francis while he prayed at Mt. LaVerna. 

Lost in prayer and united to God, St. Francis would sometimes hover above the ground, a few feet in the air. At other times, he would float as high as the surrounding beech trees, or so high that Br. Leo could barely see him. 


5. St. Thomas Aquinas

One of the Church's most renowned philosophers and theologians, St. Thomas  Aquinas possessed the unique and conflicting titles of "Dumb Ox" and "Angelic Doctor." 

Because he was large, quiet, and reserved during his schooling, other students nicknamed him "The Dumb Ox." His teacher, St. Albert the Great, proclaimed, "We call this man a dumb ox, but one day his bellowing in doctrine will resound throughout the world."  

St. Albert's prophetic words held true. Thomas became a professor, devoting his life to the pursuit of the truth, and the One Who is Truth. He wrote extensively and produced the foundational texts for the academic discipline of Catholic theology. His work also forms the basis of our defense of Catholic doctrine today.

The Angelic Doctor is known for his purity, sublimity of thought, and profoundly virtuous life. His writings on the angels also form one of the most comprehensive explanations of these supernatural messengers of God.

This eminent theologian and philosopher lived for holiness and union with God. Witnesses testified to his levitating during meditation. A sacristan once saw him levitate in the sanctuary at the basilica while conversing with the Lord. 

As he prayed before an image of Jesus, who said to Thomas, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.”


6. St. Mary of Jesus Crucified

Proclaimed a saint in 2015, Mariam Baouardy was born in Galilee, after her parents made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem and prayed at Christ 's manger for the blessing of a daughter. She was adopted by a rich uncle after her brother and she were orphaned as toddlers. Her brother was adopted by an aunt. 

As a young child, she recalled the Lord speaking clearly to her, saying that if she wanted to give Him her heart, He would stay with her forever. She lived only for union with Christ from that moment, but her uncle had different plans.

He arranged a marriage for her at age 12. When she refused, he tried to persuade and threaten her, treated her terribly, and would not relent. Mariam approached a servant, asking him to send a letter to her brother. 

The servant, who was Muslim and wanted to convert her, slit her throat when she told him she was a daughter of the Catholic Church. He threw her into a dark alley on September 8. 

She awoke in a grotto, where a young woman dressed in blue sewed and bandaged her slit throat miraculously. The lady in blue nursed her and taught her for four weeks, then took her to a church and left her there. Mariam realized then that the young woman was Our Lady. She became a domestic servant and eventually a Carmelite nun. 


When she did not report for dinner one evening, the other nuns found her on top of a lime tree. Ordered to come down by her Novice Mistress, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified lightly touched the branches with her feet and floated to the ground. 

Her superiors recorded eight accounts of her levitating in the courtyard of the monastery. Some members of her community spied on her, watching her for an explanation. None was found, except for the extraordinary humility, simplicity, and holiness of a young woman united fully with God. 


What They Teach Us

The gift of levitation and other ecstatic gifts like it are manifestations of union with God in the depths of the soul. 

It's important to note that they are pure gifts of God to certain souls—they are not "earned" or an inevitable result of holiness. They are also not merely "consolations." They are often misunderstood as "rewards" for one's holiness or love of God. 

They are, rather, manifestations of the supernatural overpowering the natural, as the soul enters into mystical union with its Creator. These saints loved God so completely and were united to Him in such sweetness and purity that He pulled their souls heavenward, in supernatural communion. A communion the human body is powerless to resist.

Prayer is the essential element in that union. Through it, our souls are prepared, illuminated, purged, and perfected in order to receive Him. 

Few of us will experience physical levitation. We do not need these gifts to be holy, nor should we be concerned about having them (many saints did not have them!). 

However, we should all aspire to the heights. No matter our station or condition in life, we are each given the same means to lift ourselves to heaven. Our Creator gives each soul exactly what it needs to achieve union, either in this life or the next. 

Here is the great secret of these and other saints: They recognized and acted upon God's invitation to such a great degree as to achieve contemplative union with Him during their lifetimes here on earth. 

When they did, their souls (and sometimes their bodies!) took flight.

St. Francis by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686)